As happens each February, hazel alder is in bloom here at the Museum.
Hazel alder (Alnus serrulata) is a small tree or large shrub which grows along ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers throughout the state. It’s deciduous, which as you know, means it loses its leaves each fall. The male catkins and female flower buds appear in fall. They bloom in early spring before the alder’s leaves appear. February is spring for this plant here in piedmont North Carolina.
The small, erect, reddish female flowers are pollinated through the action of the wind. The yellow-green male catkins give off copious amounts off pollen which is carried to the female flowers via the air currents.
You can find the plant locally at just about any wetland area. Here at the Museum it’s next to the path on the north side of the wetlands.
If left to themselves, a group of these plants can form a dense thicket along a stream bank or pond creating excellent wildlife habitat and cover. An alder thicket is good habitat for woodcock. Woodcocks are cryptically plumaged shorebirds which prefer wet inland areas with dense cover rather than the open sand and mudflats you might think of when the word shorebird is mentioned. They have a long and sensitive, pliable bill which is used to probe into the soft, moist soil of these areas for earthworms.
Like the alders, woodcock associate spring with the month of February—they’re breeding now. They have an elaborate courtship flight which is performed at dawn and dusk. There is much dancing about on the ground, vocalizations, and of course aerial displays. If you’ve never seen or heard one of these courtship displays, contact your local Audubon Society or bird club, they often schedule special trips to areas where the birds are displaying at this time of year.